July 6, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Court rejects challenge to N.Y. marriage law

A New York State appeals court rejected on Friday litigation challenging the state’s same-sex marriage law on the basis that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and senators unlawfully conducted closed-door meetings prior to passing the legislation.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Rochester, N.Y., issued the decision in the case of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms v. New York State Senate. The court, in a 5-0 decision, rejected plaintiff’s argument that Cuomo and senators — in addition to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — violated the Open Meetings Law by allegedly discussing the law behind closed doors.

“It is ADJUDGED and DECLARED that defendant New York State Senate did not violate the Open Meetings Law … in enacting the Marriage Equality Act … and that marriages performed thereunder are not invalid,” the decision states.

Additionally, the court rejects the arguments that Republican senators engaged in an “unprecedented” denial of public access before approving the bill, including allegedly turning off cell phones and meeting without access to staff or the public.

The New York State Senate passed the marriage equality law on June 24, 2011 and Cuomo signed it into law later in the evening. One month later, the law took effect and same-sex couples began marrying in New York.

Plaintiffs filed the litigation against the marriage law on July 23. Livingston County Supreme Court Judge Robert Wiggins initially ruled in November that he didn’t have enough evidence to draw a conclusion on the issue, but said the case could proceed. The court ruling on Friday overturned this ruling.

In a statement, Cuomo praised the court for upholding the marriage law and said it reaffirms New York’s position as a leading state in terms of progressive issues.

“Today the New York State Appellate Court, Fourth Department upheld New York’s Marriage Equality Act, which ensures that marriage is available to all New York couples regardless of sexual orientation,” Cuomo said. “This law was passed by both houses of the legislature and signed into law in June 2011. The court’s decision affirms that in our state, there is marriage equality for all, and with this decision New York continues to stand as a progressive leader for the nation.”

Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director for New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said he was “disappointed” the court ruled against his organization in the lawsuit and he’d examine possible legal options going forward.

“The truth is even liberal-leaning good government groups have had to admit that the process by which same-sex ‘marriage’ became law was a bad one,” McGuire said. “If we can’t trust elected leaders to play by the rules when they seek to pass legislation, then anything can pass against the will of the people — whether it be same-sex ‘marriage’ or a national health care initiative.”

Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and counsel in the case, said he expected to appeal the ruling, according to the Associated Press.

“It’s a disappointment, because this gives a green light to the politicians to (use) strong arm tactics behind closed doors and shut out the people from the process,” Staver said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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